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Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is actor Michael Rapaport’s directorial debut and his tribute to A Tribe Called Quest, arguably one of the most creative and influential music groups for those who came of age listening to early 90’s Hip Hop.

“For me, a Tribe Called Quest meant the same thing as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, so my goal was to treat them the same way those groups had been documented over the years,” writes Rapaport in his director’s statement.1

“As far as I was concerned, there hadn’t been a proper documentary about any rap group, so I was determined to create a film that didn’t feel contrived or supplementary. I wanted to achieve the same raw and rare truth ATCQ captured in their music,”2

The documentary provides an oral history of the group, as told by its members and various other influential figures in the world of Hip Hop—De La Soul, Pete Rock, DJ Red Alert, Pharell, and more. It also provides a compelling narrative of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s complex lifelong friendship, which came to a boil during their 2008 reunion tour.

Beats, Rhymes & Life film posterAs a longtime fan of Tribe it was exhilarating to get a closer peek into their experiences and evolution, both as a group and as individuals. The film is full of wonderfully personal moments, from Q-Tip gleefully going through his record collection and breaking down the components of “Can I Kick It,” to Jarobi tearing up in relating how he moved to Atlanta to tend to an ailing Phife Dawg.

As documented by the press, the group apparently had a very complex relationship with the film leading up to its release, with members alternately supporting and decrying the movie, but now that the smoke has cleared what is left is a film that was clearly made with love and respect of the group and its legacy. Rapaport very consciously removed himself from most of the film, and his exploration of the group’s inner conflicts feel very balanced and never sensationalized.

The one minor gripe I had was that except for a very brief cameo, Busta Rhymes (who had some of the most memorable verses in Tribe’s albums) is conspicuously absent, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad often seems marginalized by the central story arc of Q-Tip & Phife’s relationship.
This was apparently a consequence of clearance issues and the need to keep the film streamlined and cohesive, rather than an oversight by Rapaport, according to his interview with A.V. Club

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is playing in select theaters across the country, you can check for release dates & locations here.


1, 2 Source: PBS


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